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Phineas, on his first arrival in London, found a few of his old friends, men who were still delayed by business though the Session was over. He arrived on the 10th of August, which may be considered as the great day of the annual exodus, and he remembered how he, too, in former times had gone to Scotland to shoot grouse, and what he had done there besides shooting. He had been a welcome guest at Loughlinter, the magnificent seat of Mr. Kennedy, and indeed there had been that between him and Mr. Kennedy which ought to make him a welcome guest there still. But of Mr. Kennedy he had heard nothing directly since he had left London. From Mr. Kennedy's wife, Lady Laura, who had been his great friend, he had heard occasionally; but she was separated from her husband, and was living abroad with her father, the Earl of Brentford. Has it not been written in a former book how this Lady Laura had been unhappy in her marriage, having wedded herself to a man whom she had never loved, because he was rich and powerful, and how this very Phineas had asked her to be his bride after she had accepted the rich man's hand? Thence had come great trouble, but nevertheless there had been that between Mr. Kennedy and our hero which made Phineas feel that he ought still to be welcomed as a guest should he show himself at the door of Loughlinter Castle. The idea came upon him simply because he found that almost every man for whom he inquired had just started, or was just starting, for the North; and he would have liked to go where others went. He asked a few questions as to Mr. Kennedy from Barrington Erle and others, who had known him, and was told that the man now lived quite alone. He still kept his seat in Parliament, but had hardly appeared during the last Session, and it was thought that he would not come forward again. Of his life in the country nothing was known. "No one fishes his rivers, or shoots his moors, as far as I can learn," said Barrington Erle. "I suppose he looks after the sheep and says his prayers, and keeps his money together."
"And there has been no attempt at a reconciliation?" Phineas asked.
"She went abroad to escape his attempts, and remains there in order that she may be safe. Of all hatreds that the world produces, a wife's hatred for her husband, when she does hate him, is the strongest."
In September Finn was back in Ireland, and about the end of that month he made his first visit to Tankerville. He remained there for three or four days, and was terribly disgusted while staying at the "Yellow" inn, to find that the people of the town would treat him as though he were rolling in wealth. He was soon tired of Tankerville, and as he could do nothing further, on the spot, till the time for canvassing should come on, about ten days previous to the election, he returned to London, somewhat at a loss to know how to bestir himself. But in London he received a letter from another old friend, which decided him:--
My dear Mr. Finn, [said the letter] of course you know that Oswald is now master of the Brake hounds. Upon my word, I think it is the place in the world for which he is most fit. He is a great martinet in the field, and works at it as though it were for his bread. We have been here looking after the kennels and getting up the horses since the beginning of August, and have been cub-hunting ever so long. Oswald wants to know whether you won't come down to him till the election begins in earnest.
We were so glad to hear that you were going to appear again. I have always known that it would be so. I have told Oswald scores of times that I was sure you would never be happy out of Parliament, and that your real home must be somewhere near the Treasury Chambers. You can't alter a man's nature. Oswald was born to be a master of hounds, and you were born to be a Secretary of State. He works the hardest and gets the least pay for it; but then, as he says, he does not run so great a risk of being turned out.
We haven't much of a house, but we have plenty of room for you. As for the house, it was a matter of course, whether good or bad. It goes with the kennels, and I should as little think of having a choice as though I were one of the horses. We have very good stables, and such a stud! I can't tell you how many there are. In October it seems as though their name were legion. In March there is never anything for any body to ride on. I generally find then that mine are taken for the whips. Do come and take advantage of the flush. I can't tell you how glad we shall be to see you. Oswald ought to have written himself, but he says--; I won't tell you what he says. We shall take no refusal. You can have nothing to do before you are wanted at Tankerville.
I was so sorry to hear of your great loss. I hardly know whether to mention it or to be silent in writing. If you were here of course I should speak of her. And I would rather renew your grief for a time than allow you to think that I am indifferent. Pray come to us.
Yours ever most sincerely,
Harrington Hall, Wednesday.
Phineas Finn at once made up his mind that he would go to Harrington Hall. There was the prospect in this of an immediate return to some of the most charming pleasures of the old life, which was very grateful to him. It pleased him much that he should have been so thought of by this lady,--that she should have sought him out at once, at the moment of his reappearance. That she would have remembered him, he was quite sure, and that her husband, Lord Chiltern, should remember him also, was beyond a doubt. There had been passages in their joint lives which people cannot forget. But it might so well have been the case that they should not have cared to renew their acquaintance with him. As it was, they must have made close inquiry, and had sought him at the first day of his reappearance. The letter had reached him through the hands of Barrington Erle, who was a cousin of Lord Chiltern, and was at once answered as follows:--
Fowler's Hotel, Jermyn Street, October 1st.
MY DEAR LADY CHILTERN,
I cannot tell you how much pleasure the very sight of your handwriting gave me. Yes, here I am again, trying my hand at the old game. They say that you can never cure a gambler or a politician; and, though I had very much to make me happy till that great blow came upon me, I believe that it is so. I am uneasy till I can see once more the Speaker's wig, and hear bitter things said of this "right honourable gentleman," and of that noble friend. I want to be once more in the midst of it; and as I have been left singularly desolate in the world, without a tie by which I am bound to aught but an honourable mode of living, I have determined to run the risk, and have thrown up the place which I held under Government. I am to stand for Tankerville, as you have heard, and I am told by those to whose tender mercies I have been confided by B. E. that I have not a chance of success.
Your invitation is so tempting that I cannot refuse it. As you say, I have nothing to do till the play begins. I have issued my address, and must leave my name and my fame to be discussed by the Tankervillians till I make my appearance among them on the 10th of this month. Of course, I had heard that Chiltern has the Brake, and I have heard also that he is doing it uncommonly well. Tell him that I have hardly seen a hound since the memorable day on which I pulled him out from under his horse in the brook at Wissindine. I don't know whether I can ride a yard now. I will get to you on the 4th, and will remain if you will keep me till the 9th. If Chiltern can put me up on anything a little quieter than Bonebreaker, I'll go out steadily, and see how he does his cubbing. I may, perhaps, be justified in opining that Bonebreaker has before this left the establishment. If so I may, perhaps, find myself up to a little very light work.
Remember me very kindly to him. Does he make a good nurse with the baby?
Yours, always faithfully,
I cannot tell you with what pleasure I look forward to seeing you both again.
The next few days went very heavily with him. There had, indeed, been no real reason why he should not have gone to Harrington Hall at once, except that he did not wish to seem to be utterly homeless. And yet were he there, with his old friends, he would not scruple for a moment in owning that such was the case. He had fixed his day, however, and did remain in London till the 4th. Barrington Erle and Mr. Ratler he saw occasionally, for they were kept in town on the affairs of the election. The one was generally full of hope; but the other was no better than a Job's comforter. "I wouldn't advise you to expect too much at Tankerville, you know," said Mr. Ratler.
"By no means," said Phineas, who had always disliked Ratler, and had known himself to be disliked in return. "I expect nothing."
"Browborough understands such a place as Tankerville so well! He has been at it all his life. Money is no object to him, and he doesn't care a straw what anybody says of him. I don't think it's possible to unseat him."
"We'll try at least," said Phineas, upon whom, however, such remarks as these cast a gloom which he could not succeed in shaking off, though he could summon vigour sufficient to save him from showing the gloom. He knew very well that comfortable words would be spoken to him at Harrington Hall, and that then the gloom would go. The comforting words of his friends would mean quite as little as the discourtesies of Mr. Ratler. He understood that thoroughly, and felt that he ought to hold a stronger control over his own impulses. He must take the thing as it would come, and neither the flatterings of friends nor the threatenings of enemies could alter it; but he knew his own weakness, and confessed to himself that another week of life by himself at Fowler's Hotel, refreshed by occasional interviews with Mr. Ratler, would make him altogether unfit for the coming contest at Tankerville.
He reached Harrington Hall in the afternoon about four, and found Lady Chiltern alone. As soon as he saw her he told himself that she was not in the least altered since he had last been with her, and yet during the period she had undergone that great change which turns a girl into a mother. She had the baby with her when he came into the room, and at once greeted him as an old friend,--as a loved and loving friend who was to be made free at once to all the inmost privileges of real friendship, which are given to and are desired by so few. "Yes, here we are again," said Lady Chiltern, "settled, as far as I suppose we ever shall be settled, for ever so many years to come. The place belongs to old Lord Gunthorpe, I fancy, but really I hardly know. I do know that we should give it up at once if we gave up the hounds, and that we can't be turned out as long as we have them. Doesn't it seem odd to have to depend on a lot of yelping dogs?"
"Only that the yelping dogs depend on you."
"It's a kind of give and take, I suppose, like other things in the world. Of course, he's a beautiful baby. I had him in just that you might see him. I show Baby, and Oswald shows the hounds. We've nothing else to interest anybody. But nurse shall take him now. Come out and have a turn in the shrubbery before Oswald comes back. They're gone to-day as far as Trumpeton Wood, out of which no fox was ever known to break, and they won't be home till six."
"Who are 'they'?" asked Phineas, as he took his hat.
"The 'they' is only Adelaide Palliser. I don't think you ever knew her?"
"Never. Is she anything to the other Pallisers?"
"She is everything to them all; niece and grand-niece, and first cousin and grand-daughter. Her father was the fourth brother, and as she was one of six her share of the family wealth is small. Those Pallisers are very peculiar, and I doubt whether she ever saw the old duke. She has no father or mother, and lives when she is at home with a married sister, about seventy years older than herself, Mrs. Attenbury."
"I remember Mrs. Attenbury."
"Of course you do. Who does not? Adelaide was a child then, I suppose. Though I don't know why she should have been, as she calls herself one-and-twenty now. You'll think her pretty. I don't. But she is my great new friend, and I like her immensely. She rides to hounds, and talks Italian, and writes for the Times."
"Writes for the Times!"
"I won't swear that she does, but she could. There's only one other thing about her. She's engaged to be married."
"I don't know that I shall answer that question, and indeed I'm not sure that she is engaged. But there's a man dying for her."
"You must know, if she's your friend."
"Of course I know; but there are ever so many ins and outs, and I ought not to have said a word about it. I shouldn't have done so to any one but you. And now we'll go in and have some tea, and go to bed."
"Go to bed!"
"We always go to bed here before dinner on hunting days. When the cubbing began Oswald used to be up at three."
"He doesn't get up at three now."
"Nevertheless we go to bed. You needn't if you don't like, and I'll stay with you if you choose till you dress for dinner. I did know so well that you'd come back to London, Mr. Finn. You are not a bit altered."
"I feel to be changed in everything."
"Why should you be altered? It's only two years. I am altered because of Baby. That does change a woman. Of course I'm thinking always of what he will do in the world; whether he'll be a master of hounds or a Cabinet Minister or a great farmer;--or perhaps a miserable spendthrift, who will let everything that his grandfathers and grandmothers have done for him go to the dogs."
"Why do you think of anything so wretched, Lady Chiltern?"
"Who can help thinking? Men do do so. It seems to me that that is the line of most young men who come to their property early. Why should I dare to think that my boy should be better than others? But I do; and I fancy that he will be a great statesman. After all, Mr. Finn, that is the best thing that a man can be, unless it is given him to be a saint and a martyr and all that kind of thing,--which is not just what a mother looks for."
"That would only be better than the spendthrift and gambler."
"Hardly better you'll say, perhaps. How odd that is! We all profess to believe when we're told that this world should be used merely as a preparation for the next; and yet there is something so cold and comfortless in the theory that we do not relish the prospect even for our children. I fancy your people have more real belief in it than ours."
Now Phineas Finn was a Roman Catholic. But the discussion was stopped by the noise of an arrival in the hall.
"There they are," said Lady Chiltern; "Oswald never comes in without a sound of trumpets to make him audible throughout the house." Then she went to meet her husband, and Phineas followed her out of the drawing-room.
Lord Chiltern was as glad to see him as she had been, and in a very few minutes he found himself quite at home. In the hall he was introduced to Miss Palliser, but he was hardly able to see her as she stood there a moment in her hat and habit. There was ever so much said about the day's work. The earths had not been properly stopped, and Lord Chiltern had been very angry, and the owner of Trumpeton Wood, who was a great duke, had been much abused, and things had not gone altogether straight.
"Lord Chiltern was furious," said Miss Palliser, laughing, "and therefore, of course, I became furious too, and swore that it was an awful shame. Then they all swore that it was an awful shame, and everybody was furious. And you might hear one man saying to another all day long, 'By George, this is too bad.' But I never could quite make out what was amiss, and I'm sure the men didn't know."
"What was it, Oswald?"
"Never mind now. One doesn't go to Trumpeton Wood expecting to be happy there. I've half a mind to swear I'll never draw it again."
"I've been asking him what was the matter all the way home," said Miss Palliser, "but I don't think he knows himself."
"Come upstairs, Phineas, and I'll show you your room," said Lord Chiltern. "It's not quite as comfortable as the old 'Bull', but we make it do."
Phineas, when he was alone, could not help standing for awhile with his back to the fire thinking of it all. He did already feel himself to be at home in that house, and his doing so was a contradiction to all the wisdom which he had been endeavouring to teach himself for the last two years. He had told himself over and over again that that life which he had lived in London had been, if not a dream, at any rate not more significant than a parenthesis in his days, which, as of course it had no bearing on those which had gone before, so neither would it influence those which were to follow. The dear friends of that period of feverish success would for the future be to him as--nothing. That was the lesson of wisdom which he had endeavoured to teach himself, and the facts of the last two years had seemed to show that the lesson was a true lesson. He had disappeared from among his former companions, and had heard almost nothing from them. From neither Lord Chiltern or his wife had he received any tidings. He had expected to receive none,--had known that in the common course of things none was to be expected. There were many others with whom he had been intimate--Barrington Erle, Laurence Fitzgibbon, Mr. Monk, a politician who had been in the Cabinet, and in consequence of whose political teaching he, Phineas Finn, had banished himself from the political world;--from none of these had he received a line till there came that letter summoning him back to the battle. There had never been a time during his late life in Dublin at which he had complained to himself that on this account his former friends had forgotten him. If they had not written to him, neither had he written to them. But on his first arrival in England he had, in the sadness of his solitude, told himself that he was forgotten. There would be no return, so he feared, of those pleasant intimacies which he now remembered so well, and which, as he remembered them, were so much more replete with unalloyed delights than they had ever been in their existing realities. And yet here he was, a welcome guest in Lord Chiltern's house, a welcome guest in Lady Chiltern's drawing-room, and quite as much at home with them as ever he had been in the old days.
Who is there that can write letters to all his friends, or would not find it dreary work to do so even in regard to those whom he really loves? When there is something palpable to be said, what a blessing is the penny post! To one's wife, to one's child, one's mistress, one's steward if there be a steward; one's gamekeeper, if there be shooting forward; one's groom, if there be hunting; one's publisher, if there be a volume ready or money needed; or one's tailor occasionally, if a coat be required, a man is able to write. But what has a man to say to his friend,--or, for that matter, what has a woman? A Horace Walpole may write to a Mr. Mann about all things under the sun, London gossip or transcendental philosophy, and if the Horace Walpole of the occasion can write well and will labour diligently at that vocation, his letters may be worth reading by his Mr. Mann, and by others; but, for the maintenance of love and friendship, continued correspondence between distant friends is naught. Distance in time and place, but especially in time, will diminish friendship. It is a rule of nature that it should be so, and thus the friendships which a man most fosters are those which he can best enjoy. If your friend leave you, and seek a residence in Patagonia, make a niche for him in your memory, and keep him there as warm as you may. Perchance he may return from Patagonia and the old joys may be repeated. But never think that those joys can be maintained by the assistance of ocean postage, let it be at never so cheap a rate. Phineas Finn had not thought this matter out very carefully, and now, after two years of absence, he was surprised to find that he was still had in remembrance by those who had never troubled themselves to write to him a line during his absence.
When he went down into the drawing-room he was surprised to find another old friend sitting there alone. "Mr. Finn," said the old lady, "I hope I see you quite well. I am glad to meet you again. You find my niece much changed, I dare say?"
"Not in the least, Lady Baldock," said Phineas, seizing the proffered hand of the dowager. In that hour of conversation, which they had had together, Lady Chiltern had said not a word to Phineas of her aunt, and now he felt himself to be almost discomposed by the meeting. "Is your daughter here, Lady Baldock?"
Lady Baldock shook her head solemnly and sadly. "Do not speak of her, Mr. Finn. It is too sad! We never mention her name now." Phineas looked as sad as he knew how to look, but he said nothing. The lamentation of the mother did not seem to imply that the daughter was dead; and, from his remembrance of Augusta Boreham, he would have thought her to be the last woman in the world to run away with the coachman. At the moment there did not seem to be any other sufficient cause for so melancholy a wagging of that venerable head. He had been told to say nothing, and he could ask no questions; but Lady Baldock did not choose that he should be left to imagine things more terrible than the truth. "She is lost to us for ever, Mr. Finn."
"How very sad."
"Sad, indeed! We don't know how she took it."
"Took what, Lady Baldock?"
"I am sure it was nothing that she ever saw at home. If there is a thing I'm true to, it is the Protestant Established Church of England. Some nasty, low, lying, wheedling priest got hold of her, and now she's a nun, and calls herself--Sister Veronica John!" Lady Baldock threw great strength and unction into her description of the priest; but as soon as she had told her story a sudden thought struck her. "Oh, laws! I quite forgot. I beg your pardon, Mr. Finn; but you're one of them!"
"Not a nun, Lady Baldock." At that moment the door was opened, and Lord Chiltern came in, to the great relief of his wife's aunt.
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